Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla fights King Kong

It’s Godzilla vs. Kong but in all honesty it could almost be any Godzilla movie. There’s just something so interchangeable about them all. Grasping for a differentiator you might seize on “cult indie director” as a search filter – but that could be this one (director: Adam Wingard) or 2014’s Godzilla (director: Gareth Edwards). Or how about “the one with Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown”? Well that could be either this one or 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (they played the same characters). Or how about “the one with Michael Dougherty’s name on the writing credits?”. That could also be this one or Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, since they are franchise siblings. But if you swap out Michael Dougherty with another writer, Terry Rossio, then we’re down to either this one or the 1998 Godzilla. Yes, that one.

In fact you could probably, on a wet afternoon, daisy-chain all the non-Japanese Godzillas together in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon style, going back to Marv Newland’s 1969 short Bambi Meets Godzilla (it’s 1m 38s long, very amusing and you can see it here on YouTube). What you get in almost every case is a lot of people dying while a monster does its stuff. Two monsters here, obviously, though Kong is the monster hero in Godzilla vs. Kong, a noble simian being returned to his original land, Hollow Earth – which necessitates a journey to the centre of the Earth by a team of scientist, who are hoping that they’ll also lure Godzilla back down there in pursuit of Kong, so they can then put the cork back in the bottle and skedaddle.

The scientists are played by Alexander Skarsgård as Nathan Lind and Rebecca Hall as Ilene Andrews, and are joined in some sort of observer role by too-hot-to-be-noble Eliza González as Maya Simmons, the tight-jumpered daughter of tech industry titan Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), plus Hall’s mute surrogate daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who, in spite of having no dialogue beyond American Sign Language, is the only character in the whole thing worth watching.

Kaylee Hottle as Jia
Kaylee Hottle as Jia

This group inhabits one circle of operations. In the other are a Spielbergian trio of kids-against-the-man, conspiracy-theory podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), earnest truth-seeker Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her obligatorily doughy and geeky friendzone-only pal Josh (Julian Dennison). The third circle is a lucha libre throwdown between King Kong and Godzilla. To put the relative chances of these creatures in context, the former struggles to escape from chains the scientists have put him in while he’s in transit, the latter is able to scythe through a battleship like it was butter. Having seen that, the judges should have just raised Godzilla’s right arm, paw, whatever and declared the fight conclusively won. But no.

Wingard is a good director and there is a good film in here, somewhere, centred on the search for the truth by group two (Bernie, Madison and Josh), since the whole territory of conspiracy theories and their followers, loss of trust in science etc, is fertile right now. Instead the focus is more on group one (the lab coats), who stand around pulling one “I am awed” face after another. The big hope that Hall and Gonzalez will go womano a womano over Skarsgard comes to nought. Two ladies fighting over a himbo, wouldn’t that be a thing?

It’s all shot dark, for big cinemas, as is the current style, which allows for a bit more latitude with the effects, which genuinely are awesome. The moment where the scientists’ “spaceship” journeying towards Hollow Earth has to do the equivalent of the Star Wars leap into hyperspace – some gravity-reversal rationale is offered – is properly spectacular.

But as for the fights between Godzilla and Kong. As said, I can’t see any real contest, and enjoyed them as much as I did the fights in Mega-Shark v Giant Octopus, which at least are meant to be stupid. Which is to say they are on a par with the fights in Pacific Rim – big, loud, confusing and dull. Thousands of people die; no one cares. At one point Mecha-Godzilla gets involved. Thousands more people die; no one cares.

2016’s Japanese Shin Godzilla remains the best of the modern Godzillas, since it had worked out how to sandwich a bit of Aaron Sorkin walkie-talky political business between its monster scraps. Here, by contrast we have Hall pulling a moue, Skarsgård going boss-eyed and Gonzalez crossing her legs attitudinally, very high up. Nice legs, bad attitude.

Watch it to see Chandler and Bichir, only recently underused in the George Clooney film The Midnight Sky, being underused again, though Bichir does at least get to pull a few Bond villain poses. Chandler’s job is to run around looking for his missing daughter, Madison, trying to inject a bit of human scale into this film, as he also failed to do in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

It’s not his fault. He’s outbellowed by Godzilla. Everyone is, including Kong.

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

Starter for 10

Alice Eve, James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall in Starter for 10



Write what you know, they say, and David Nicholls certainly does that here. An adaptation of his 2003 best-seller about a 1980s working class kid going to university, written by a 1980s working class kid who went to university, this comedy is full of period flavour and has the tang of authentic experience. Nicholls and director Tom Vaughan haven’t left success to chance, however, they’ve pumped all this bittersweet detail into the most durable of genre plots – the romantic comedy – with James McAvoy playing the Nicholls avatar, Brian Jackson, a fresher at the high-end Bristol university (Nicholls’s own alma mater) who is slightly out of his social class and so signs up to join the University Challenge quiz team. Where he meets leggy blonde head-turning posh tease Alice (Alice Eve), seemingly just minutes after having met the bright, socially committed Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), who is more in his league.

The drama then consists of watching young Brian throw himself to little avail against Alice’s ramparts while under his nose, waiting if only he knew it… you’re ahead of me. But this really is a case of “never mind the plot, feel the detail” with Nicholls’s screenplay taking time to paint the sense of freedom that leaving home brings, but also the gulf it opens up between the old life and the new.

This is where McAvoy comes in, the go-to guy for a certain sort of well-brought-up British male (Scottish accent optional), he is to the aspiring working class and lower middles what Danny Dyer is to the contentedly working class, a seemingly effortless charmer, playing a series of smart, likeable, cocky but vulnerable characters people identify with. So we are on Brian’s side when he goes home to find there’s a distance between him and his lone-parent mother (Catherine Tate) who made sacrifices so he’d get on, and that his down-to-earth best mate at home (Dominic Cooper) now seems, in comparison to his new university friends, a bit gauche. And we’re on Brian’s side too when he encounters the socially superior lah-di-dah types you meet in the groves of academe (Benedict Cumberbatch’s quiz team captain). Nicholls and Vaughan also score well on painting a picture of the first weeks at university, as uprooted teenagers work out which new group they fit into – the pseuds, the dudes, dressers up, the lumpen others, and so on.

And it’s the 1980s, so The Cure feature heavily on the zeitgeisty soundtrack – as anyone who’s read Nicholls’s One Day will know, music is key to his capture of period – and the patron saints of 1980s awkwardness seem never more appropriate than here.

Does it all end happily? Well that would be giving away too much of the plot, but as readers of One Day will also know, Nicholls is as much about exploiting genre as polishing it, so don’t get too cosy with what looks at first glance like a British version of a John Hughes underdog romance. As for the title, that’s one of the catchphrases of the TV show University Challenge – based on the US show College Bowl – in which opposing teams test their status-defining cultural knowledge, while audiences at home watch the interplay between the social classes. Which is kind of what the film does too.



Starter for Ten – Watch it now at Amazon



© Steve Morrissey 2006